Donald Trump has offered his public support to those accused of joining the 6 January riot at the US Capitol which killed five people, claiming that suspects are “being persecuted so unfairly”, just days before a “Justice for J6” rally in Washington is set to commemorate the insurrection.
“Our hearts and minds are with the people being persecuted so unfairly relating to the January 6th protest concerning the Rigged Presidential Election,” the former president wrote in a statement on Thursday. “In addition to everything else, it has proven conclusively that we are a two-tiered system of justice.”
On Saturday, former Trump campaign operative Matt Braynard plans to host a “Justice for J6” rally with his organisation Look Ahead America. He has said the demonstration will be peaceful, and is meant to highlight what he argues is overzealous prosecution of the Capitol demonstrators, who ranged from peaceful protesters to those violently attacking police.
“These people’s faces are up on billboards,” he told The New York Times on Wednesday. “They’re losing their jobs. They’re losing their homes. They’re spending all their savings on attorneys. They’re going bankrupt for doing what on any other day, for any other cause, would have gotten you a $50 fine and a slap on the wrist.”
Donald Trump has denied any responsibility for causing the Capitol riot, but has long spoken sympathetically about those who joined in the mob, releasing a video the day his supporters ransacked the Capitol as Congress met to certify his election loss where he told them, “We love you, you’re very special.”
Still, the ex-president, as well as virtually every other top Republicans in Washington, are steering clear of the demonstration this weekend. Mr Trump views the event as a “setup” to make him look bad in the eyes of the media, anonymous sources told The New York Times.
Those accused of joining the riot, meanwhile, have sometimes turned on their big-name backer, saying their violent actions were a direct result of the former president’s words.
“The call to action was put out to be in DC on January 6th from the Don himself,” a Pennsylvania man accused of violent conduct during the mob said, according to court documents.
A number of Capitol riot suspects, including the so-called “Qanon Shaman”, have used Mr Trump’s words as part of their defence, arguing things wouldn’t have escalated without the president’s fiery words that day and in the months leading up to the rally. In his speech just before the riot broke out, Mr Trump told the MAGA faithful to “fight like hell” and that “we will not take it anymore”.
For example, an attorney for Emanuel Jackson, a 20-year-old Washington-area man accused of using a metal bat to hit officers’ riot shields, told the court earlier this year that “the nature and circumstances of this offense must be viewed through the lens of an event inspired by the President of the United States”.
So far, the argument hasn’t been enough to get anyone out of charges, but rather has been used to argue for lighter detention conditions or charges. A spokesperson for Mr Trump did not respond to a request for comment.
Mr Trump’s words will come under more direct scrutiny in Congress, which requested records last month from at least 30 members of his inner circle as part of its investigation into the Capitol riot.
If those officials don’t comply with the request, they could face legally binding subpoenas.
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